Monday, April 15, 2013

The ATP Transitions to European Clay

by Savannah

 photo 05c077e6-354f-46d2-a39a-ab5d520e1e7a_zpsd56cfc71.jpg

Stop the presses. Well almost. John Isner won the US Men's Clay Court Championship played in Houston last week. John took the ritual leap into the pool all winners of the event take, always fully clothed.

 photo isnertrophyhouston2013_zps71cd3ce1.jpg

The bigger news was that Isner took a Wild Card into Monte Carlo becoming the only American singles player in the draw. There is never any rest for the weary though and Isner, as well as the man he defeated, Nicolas Almagro, are both playing on Tuesday.

 photo robredocasablanca2013_zpsfad4e0bd.jpg

Is this going to be the year of the Tommy's? Tommy Robredo, who has struggled coming back to the tour after injury, won in Casablanca, a traditional clay warm up event. The other Tommy wisely took this week off. I don't think anyone is looking for either man to win one of the events but both are expected to do well. Haas, who was the second seed, lost in the second round at Houston to Ricardas Berankis.

End Notes

Gael Monfils is making his return in Monte Carlo after being sidelined for a long time with injury.

Australia's Davis Cup Captain Patrick Rafter has filed an official complaint with the ITF over the accommodations his Davis Cup team were forced to live in in Uzbekistan.

 photo 1e0c881d-4e1c-44b5-9e09-cfd725f828c4_zps4e11e002.jpg

Rafter said the following in Adelaide Now :

"It was more uncomfortable and unreasonable conditions for what we're used to. If you want the best players playing it (Davis Cup), you've got to have good conditions. The crowds were fine. The court was OK. The hotel - not knowing if you were going to have a good night's sleep - wasn't great.

"There were car horns all the time on one side of the hotel and there was an aviary and barking dogs on the other side. You go all that way to play Davis Cup, you shouldn't be worrying about having a good night's sleep. The food was a worry over there, too, so we took our own chef.

"A few of the people had rooms where the sewage backed up through the pipes and that wasn't much fun. It stunk. Our manager had bed bugs. It was pretty grotty."

"The ITF was there and I said, 'This is crap.' They didn't want to listen and they fined us because the boys didn't go to the dinner. I didn't want the boys to do what they didn't want to. They (ITF) said, 'You should have been here earlier,' and I said we were preparing to get ready for the match (in Munich). So I played hardball with them. I'm going to try and get all the captains and players who want change and get the head guys off the (Davis Cup) committee."

The ITF is going to have to look at conditions on more than the court wince Davis Cup is now being contested in non Western countries. A tie was forfeited in Malaysia because of court conditions. While Australia won the tie against Uzbekistan from Rafter's description there were issues that the ITF didn't want to face and fined the victims not the people responsible.

I'm not familiar with the word "grotty" but I think we all get the message.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What If They Held a Tournament and No One Cared

by Savannah

Poland has one of the top female tennis players in the world in Agniezska Radwanska. I'm sure that the organizers of the brand new tournament in Katowice thought their event would be a big draw. Someone forget to tell them about WTA rules regarding top ten players and International level events though and Aga was not eligible to play. Just an aside but I wish the WTA would go back to rating their tournaments as Tier I, Tier II, etc.

Back on topic. Still the field was pretty good with WTA #8 Petra Kvitova as the top seed. Looking at the players entered I think most people thought this tournament would be a walk in the park for Kvitova, a good tune up for her going into Fed Cup and then into the clay court season. On her way to the final Kvitova fed a bagel to the #117 ranked Romanian Alexandra Cadantu in the semi final. She would face Roberta Vinci in the Final. Vinci is better known for her doubles play with countrywoman Sara Errani at the moment but she earned her way to the Final defeating nineteen year old Annika Beck, who is ranked #74 one and love.

Vinci, at 5'4", was facing a much taller Kvitova who stands 6' tall and at 23 is 7 years younger.

 photo 16ae4a5a-a5ff-4cdb-a05b-9a19b31aa327_zps7055dfe4.jpg

So why is Roberta Vinci holding the winners trophy?

 photo 0cf48b69-feb0-45ee-8194-8a071e8dc305_zpsbb4254e3.jpg

Partly because Kvitova showed up in the shape you see in the picture.

I didn't see the first set which was decided in a tiebreak and won by Vinci 7-6(2). I did see the entire second set though and what I saw was Vinci standing aside and letting a slow and out of shape Kvitova defeat herself.

Fans of Venus Williams are familiar with her second set walkabouts where she seems to have been distracted by who knows what but who somehow always manages to win in three sets. It seems Petra Kvitova has the same bad habit but unlike Venus today she didn't have a cushion and unable to hit a return inside the lines gave Vinci the match.

 photo 8719f0f8-1e2d-4800-94bc-d1889f2d041b_zps993f04d4.jpg

Not that Roberta Vinci was the image of fitness herself kiddies. She just played a better clay court game and gave her Fed Cup team a shot of confidence for next weeks battle against the Czech Republic, a team that features Kvitova as it's star.

If Petra doesn't improve her conditioning it's highly unlikely that she'll fulfill the potential many saw in her after her Wimbledon win and that is a shame for the women's tour.

 photo 6ca56152-91ba-4603-a78c-92c3ad72fd87_zpsbbd35b85.jpg

The doubles crown was won by Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino and Lourdes Dominguez Lino.

There wasn't a lot of fan interest in this tournament that I could see. It wasn't that the WTA didn't try it's just that, well, no one seemed to care about the event. There's a lot of conversation about why Kvitova managed to lose an event where she was the class of the field, but that's it.

Maybe this tournament needs a different spot in the calendar?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

More on the WTA - Are Five Set Matches The Answer?

by Savannah

I went on a bit of a rant about the WTA's emphasis on having any and everyone on the tour do a half naked photo shoot in a lame attempt to draw people to the tour. I also slammed fan sites for buying into this. I didn't talk about how the alleged tennis fans that populate these sites seem to have the collective mental age of thirteen year old boys because I thought that might be a bit of a cheap shot but I'm mentioning it in this post because, well I should've mentioned it yesterday.

But it's not fair to paint all of the people on fan sites with a broad brush. Under all the drivel there are true tennis fans, fans who won't waste hundreds of cyber pages on flat chested vs not flat chested and who want to talk about what measures can be taken to improve the play and reputation of women's tennis.

To support this point a view a fan calling him/herself "T-Rex" posted an article from The Economist from January 2012 that should've been required reading for all tennis fans, coaches, players, organizations and journalists, professional and non professional.

The first picture in the article is shown below.

 photo aba935be-4d14-485c-ab6d-8c2b30b7328f_zpsbb5877f0.jpg

The picture makes it clear what the focus of the article will be. Remember that this is over a year old.

...Introducing best-of-fives into women's majors would have numerous benefits. For a start, it should boost athleticism. That has been perhaps the most exciting development in the men's game over the past decade. As modern tennis has retreated to the baseline and rallies have lengthened, the need to prepare for a punishing, five-set encounter has made fitness a priority. The supreme conditioning of Mr Nadal and Serbia's Novak Djokovic, who have split all of the last seven slams between them, has allowed them to perform acrobatics that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. This has replaced the court craft of the 1970s as the visual treat for spectators.

By contrast, without best-of-fives, the fading of serve-and-volley tennis has arguably led to a setback for athleticism in the women's game, which probably peaked with Germany's Steffi Graf in the 1980s and 1990s. Players approach the net less frequently than ever before, and yet they have never had to build much stamina...

That is also, partly, because best-of-threes give weaker players more chance to cause an upset. A brief lapse in concentration or a lucky mishit can determine the outcome of a set and put a player firmly in control of a match. Best-of-fives, on the other hand, reward consistency. They also favour more cerebral players, who can adapt their game plans to counter troublesome opponents. That makes them more interesting to watch as well as harder to win. It is notable that over the past three years, eight different men have won Masters 1000 tournaments, where best-of-threes are played, but just four have triumphed at majors...

In itself, the shorter format demeans women. It gives ammunition to opponents of equal pay, who argue that women put in fewer hours and attract less interest than men. And the discrimination is unusually sexist...

Reform will not happen unless women demand it, however. And the leading players remain silent on the issue. That is hardly surprising. Having enjoyed success as things stand, they have little incentive to call for a physically taxing change, especially as tournaments like Wimbledon now pay them equal prize money to the men.

The last paragraph says all that needs to be said about why the WTA and the women players keep playing the "pay us" card while avoiding the issues raised in the above article.

There is no excuse for anyone in the top ten to be as physically unfit as Ana Ivanovic, Petra Kvitova, and Marion Bartoli. Thin does not equal fit. Showing up on court with a visible gut is obviously not fit. Thin may get you modeling work but with no muscle tone you won't play well on the court.

I hope people read the entire article and think about it. So often the reaction to any article critical of women's tennis is met with venom and attack from the supporters of women's tennis. It's not sexist to demand fitness. The proof of the articles premise was visible in Indian Wells and Miami where attendance at women's matches was horrible.

Let's think about it. And stop abetting the WTA tour in putting an inferior product on display.

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's The European Spring Clay Season!

by Savannah

 photo 08951f24-b104-4e40-9a44-25afd1b4af00_zps87d77a1c.jpg

This post is very late. I should've covered last weekends winners earlier in the week but life being what it is I didn't. I'll post their pictures throughout the post.

 photo 2672dbc0-32f1-4f35-9a40-0f42a36eb467_zps7cb23144.jpg
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - Monterrey

Monte Carlo is about to get underway and the most beautiful setting for tennis will be on display. I say this every year but it's worth repeating. There is no more beautiful spot on earth to hold a tennis tournament. There may be bigger arenas, there may be more storied locations, but with the blue Mediterranean Sea as it's background contrasted with the brick red of the courts the stage is set for a style of tennis that demands the most from players. You must be at peak condition mentally and physically to play well in the slower red dirt of Europe. You must play strategically, know how to construct points, and be able to think two or three shots ahead. I wonder if that's why not one top American player is showing up. Other than the Bryan twins I can't name one American who plays the clay season until they have to. Sam Querrey used to but he's injured and won't come to Monte Carlo.

 photo bc1ac55c-3b98-4944-8385-955b2e9aff6e_zpscc34cecf.jpg
Kristina Mladenovic and Lucie Safarova - Charleston

Of course Monte Carlo is the tournament the American tennis establishment, working through the ATP, wanted to get rid of. It was the European players, leading the fight to preserve this historic tournament, who saved it agreeing to the compromise of making it a non mandatory event but preserving its Masters 1000 status. The players fought. Keep that in mind.

Meanwhile in the States one of this country's oldest tournaments was allowed to shut down, it's place taken by a tournament in South America all to make sure a tournament owner who wants to treat players as more than chattel, couldn't get control of another event. So much for tradition in the States.

I should mention in passing that the tennis journalistic establishment would rather foam at the mouth about Caroline Wozniacki seeming to compare herself to a WAG (or whatever it is she meant by her statement) than deal with the state of mens tennis in the States right now. We've got one man in the ATP top 20, just barely, and that is considered a big deal.

 photo 1be191e0-b9cb-48c5-98d7-a9665879e4e6_zps07d7d820.jpg
Serena Williams - Charleston

What they are ignoring is that it's women's tennis in the States that's almost off of life support. I say almost because the USTA Pro Player organization, as exhibited in the last matches by Sloane Stephens and the defection of Christina McHale to her own coach, doesn't seem to have a clue what to do when faced with genuine talent that isn't male. They may nip this nascent revival in the bud with their idiocy if the players aren't careful.

The other news that the professional tennis journo's seem to be ignoring is who will take over from ailing ATP CEO Adam Drewett. It was USA Today that published a story about who the front runners are to take over. All emphasis is mine.

The contenders are Mark Young, who heads up the ATP Tour's Americas division and is its chief legal and media officer; and Laurent Delanney, who oversees the European division and commercial operations.

Two people with knowledge of the search confirmed that Young and Delanney are the only candidates being considered. They spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because the search is ongoing.

The ATP board, comprised of three tournament and three player representatives, has been looking for a successor to current ATP executive chairman and president Brad Drewett since he disclosed in January that he is suffering from Motor Neuron Disease (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease) and would step down when a replacement was found.

"The board is focusing on a number of strong internal candidates and is not considering external candidates at this stage in the process," the ATP said in a statement provided Thursday.

The two people said no consensus has formed around either candidate, but that continuity was paramount.


No successor to Drewett is likely to be named until the ATP board meets again during Wimbledon, which begins June 24.


Young, an American based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is the more experienced candidate but also carries more baggage.

An attorney and the tour's general counsel, he joined the ATP in 1990 and became CEO of the Americas division, which includes North and South America, in 1996. He has negotiated many of the tours major sponsorship and TV deals.

French-born Delenney has an agent and marketing background (he once managed Yannick Noah's career) and joined the ATP in 1994. He directed sponsorship and licensing teams and became CEO of its European division — the seat of power in the men's game today — in 2009. He lives in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Both are seen as having strong ties to tournaments. Reaching a final decision could rest with which man players rally behind.

Notice there was no mention of Richard Krajicek. I think that Young will get it unless something major happens behind the scenes involving the players.

The WTA - Merchants of Soft Porn?

I love pictures. Seeing players on and off the court, in their kits or on tournament red carpets is always fun for me especially since I love fashion. So imagine my chagrin when scrolling through a popular women's fan site I had to make sure I hadn't landed on some tits and ass site. After making sure that I was indeed on a tennis site I scrolled through several pages of young players in various stages of undress. I say young because many of them are players who you see on the ITF circuit week after week, some doing well and some not. I'm not sure I care if a young player looks like Taylor Swift or not. I do care about her game and if she's fighting her way into main tour draws though.

And it's not only the up and comers. There was a serious discussion about how sexy Maria Sharapova is and whether her lack of pendulous boobs takes away from her sexiness. Then there was the discussion of Victoria Azarenka's nose which of course segued into a discussion of her being with Stefan Gordy and that he's an annoyance. Somehow that conversation ended up being about Anna Kournikova. I have no idea.

I've said over and over that the WTA needs to focus on the women's game and the best players minus their physical attributes. I mean if boobs make a woman sexy why isn't Serena Williams always the sexiest woman on the tour? Oh yeah, there's that thing about her being of African descent that leaves her out of who is sexy conversations.

Also left out of these idiotic conversations are Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.

To the fans credit someone asked why players who are known lesbians are all of a sudden flashing boobage? It's a good question but then it was back to the half naked, the flat chested, and those with big noses.

The thing is how can I blame the fans reducing the women's game to one of tits and ass when the tennis press, the place where you should be reading about the different games played by the top players, is obsessing over Caroline Wozniacki and her golfer and whether she should want to compare herself to a WAG.

I mean what could be more important right?

Until the WTA starts promoting the GAME of tennis and not the IMAGE of tennis we'll continue to see twenty people in the stands watching a match between the top women while a nearby court if full to overflowing watching two guys in the top fifty slug it out. It's this that makes all the talk about getting rid of combined events being good for the women's tour moot. If there are no combined events who would come and see the WTA unless Serena or Venus Williams are playing? No one puts butts in the seats the way these two do and any one who argues otherwise is delusional.

So lets make women's tennis about tennis and not about physical beauty or lack thereof okay? Please?

 photo 85973447_zps283a4107.jpg

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

From Hunter to Hunted - American Girls

by Savannah

Sloane Stephens, semifinalist at January's Australian Open, lost in straight sets to Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 6-0, losing the last nine games of the match just like she did in Miami. The difference is in Miami she lost to the woman ranked #4 in the world. In Charleston she lost to #113. Sloane is ranked #16.

In a post match interview Stephens said the following:

“The last three months has definitely been super overwhelming and definitely really tough,” she said.

The admission echoed statements she had made in a in a roundtable interview Monday..

“From last year things have really changed, being seeded and getting byes first round, it’s definitely a completely different situation,” Stephens, who was ranked as low as No. 92 as recently as May 2012, said. “But I think the expectations are definitely tough. It’s just a completely different situation, but it’s definitely in perspective because I’ve gone through so many changes and so many different things.”

She added: “But I mean like I said, it’s a really good place to be in, and I’m happy that I’m in this situation, because if I wasn’t I’d obviously be grinding and struggling in qualies every week, and it’d be tough. But I think now I’ve done pretty well, and I just want to keep the momentum going.”

David Nainkin who was counseling her last week, was not there today. Instead Troy Hahn of the USTA was coaching her. His advice?
“This is your first week on clay — find the tennis you want to play,” said Hahn during an on-court coaching visit midway through the second set.

Yeah that would surely make me want to run out and do some stuff. Yeah.

 photo c7cb1f2d-1ea5-4379-8340-244659ac6efa_zps8edab346.jpg

I've been hearing about another young American woman, Jessica Pegula a lot since the beginning of the year. She took three sets to take out Garbine Muguruza, another up and comer from Spain, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-5 Monday and faced the #8 seed Mona Barthel Tuesday. After a match like that you'd think the 19 year old would've been running on fumes but she made Barthel look totally inept and lost on the court as she took her out 7-6(4), 6-1. Pegula is a little more fit now than she is in the picture I posted but she's totally fit between the ears. Her coach, Michael Joyce, once coached someone named Maria Sharapova. His on court coaching was laid back and conversational. No screaming and gesticulating. Just a conversation between a coach and his charge.

 photo 58aa04f4-ee36-4ade-88ca-31ad2efba579_zps55aba98c.jpg

Eighteen year old Grace Min is another young American who got a surprise win against a higher ranked player. She won her first set against Tamara Paszek, the #13 seed 6-3 after which Paszek promptly retired. I hope to see Grace play later this week.

 photo b3be1a1c-9c7d-4218-b4f2-2517b1102043_zpsb8bb1a12.jpg

Next up for Min will be 18 year old Madison Keys.Keys won her first round match 7-6(3), 6-4 against Alexandra Cadantu of Romania. I hope Min vs Keys is on a television court.

The one player Melanie Oudin has always been able to defeat is Jelena Jankovic. Today however JJ decided she wasn't having it and won the match 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. Melanie's coach was giving her decent advice, advice that enabled her to win the second set. But, and there's no delicate way to put it, Melanie needs to get off of the see food diet. All of the diminutive women players are fit. Look at Sara Errani or Dominika Cibulkova. Not a love handle or beer gut in sight. The smaller players need the mobility that fitness brings in order to compete with their bigger, stronger peers. I've talked about fitness and American tennis players, male and female, already this year. You may get lucky and win a set from a higher ranked player but winning, consistently winning, is a pipe dream without fitness and the discipline it requires.

 photo dc5dbb87-d6b7-445a-8994-843b674d926d_zps0a569166.jpg

I watched Christina McHale lose to fellow American Varvara Lepchenko 3-6, 6-4, 2-6 and wondered what had happened to her game. McHale has left USTA coaching and is working with Gordon Uehling. McHale is young enough to make a change that could show results by the time the US summer hard court season comes around.

All of these young women want to become the hunted but the support system around the top players, family, close friends, nutritionists, cushions them and allows them to focus on what they need to do to be at the top of the sport. All of these women are good, some are very good. The difference between them and the players at the top is coaching, and as I've already said, discipline. I'll be watching these players and hope to give a "Hunter to Hunted" report in August just before the US Open.